Settling in to a new way of working

Across the world we are becoming used to educating at a distance, with virtual lessons becoming the norm. Alongside this we are discovering the inventiveness of our students when it comes to using technology to their advantage.  

Global update

Now each of the countries we report upon weekly have finished their Easter break, the only country that is not full-time homeschooling is Sweden. There, the primary schools remain open.  Across the globe, speculation mounts over how long the situation will continue.  With no firm dates being provided by governments, the beginning of June has been muted by some experts.  The only country with a faint smell of the coffee is Dubai/UAE, where they have just issued Guidelines and Protocols for Reopening.  After five weeks of near-total lockdown, any relaxation of the measures will be a welcome relief. 

Quebec, as with the United Kingdom is experiencing major outbreaks of the virus in care homes. So much so that in Quebec some staff employed in the Provincial education sector are being redeployed into health care.  At the moment it is limited to Montreal. 

Mike Dubeau and his team have been dealing with issues of poor internet connection for students in remote areas. His Board serves students from downtown Gatineau to the Hudson Bay. They are using the traditional postal service to send them copies of the online provision. 

England, since the return from the Spring break, has been a hive of activity. The DFE, whose Chief Educational Advisor, Jo Saxton, is a former member of Challenge Partners, has sponsored the Oak National Academy which over the last few weeks has engaged 40 state school teachers to produce 180 online lessons per week.  They can be accessed by all teachers. The first 180 lessons were published on Monday and it was reported that over 250,000 lessons were accessed.  We spoke to one parent who had used it and they said they were impressed by the quality. The DFE has also announced plans to work with suppliers to plug the IT provision gap for students.  

A host of other online resources have also become available including from the BBC.  With all this activity we fully expect that the current 25 per cent of state school children who use online learning to increase rapidly. 

The Education Endowment Foundation, our major source in England for relevant research, has published in light of the Coronavirus outbreak a series of specific guidance reports. They cover advice for schools, parents and the best evidence on supporting student learning remotely. They have included the critical area of student wellbeing and have reiterated our earlier advice about establishing good learning routines.

Our colleagues David Bartram OBE (see previous blog) who worked on our teams that established London Challenge and Challenge Partners and is a national expert on Special Education Needs, hosted the first of what will be a series of SEN webinars for the TES. He says the takeup was quite incredible. More than 2,500 have signed up so far, with 1,450 attending on Tuesday.   Presenting to a global audience, he referenced the upward convergence model of school improvement and how our approach had been responsible for ensuring high quality peer review across the country. Next Tuesday they are joined by a well-known celebrity with a liking for mathematics. More info here.

Mats Rosenqvist in Sweden tells us that staff have quickly realised that some of their students are more IT savvy than they are, and quite capable of appearing to be online when they are not and passing off the work of others as their own.  This sense of unease amongst teachers about their capacity to harness the new learning environment compared to their students is a common theme amongst those we have spoken to.  

Some  feel like a fish out of water, swamped by hundreds of often trivial and repetitive emails from anxious and excitable students.  We suggest that if you are required to provide online lessons, you bring a little calm to the procedures by considering how you can replicate the start of a good lesson in the new setting. Your normal lessons start and finish at set times, you greet students at the classroom door, they come fully equipped and focused upon learning, the lesson starts with an introduction which outlines what is to be learnt, how they can judge if you have learnt and how the work links with their previous learning, questions are asked through a show of hands and are answered in sequence and so on.  All of these can be replicated in some form online. By doing this rather than trying unsuccessfully to manage an information free-for-all, learning can take place in a structured and orderly fashion. Establishing these in the new learning environment will not only make you less anxious but also reassure the students that though the setting has changed, fundamentally it is business as usual.  

With so many things continually changing it is hard to maintain a sense of perspective by focusing on what you can manage and trying not to become anxious by speculating too much on the rest.  We all know that at some stage this situation will come to an end.  However, when and what will replace it? 

There you are, we are even guilty of not following our advice and speculating.

Take care and stay safe.

George